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Originally (From "Malcolm Sage, Detective," by Herbert Jenkins.
Copyright, 1921, by George H. Doran Company, New York,
and Herbert Jenkins, Ltd., London.)



IT WAS through Roger Freynes, the eminent K.C., that Malcolm Sage first became interested in the series of anonymous letters that had created considerable scandal in the little village of Gylston.

   Tucked away in the north-west corner of Hampshire, Gylston was a village of some eight hundred inhabitants. The vicar, the Rev. John Crayne, had held the living for some twenty years. Aided by his wife and daughter, Muriel, a pretty and high-spirited girl of nineteen, he devoted himself to the parish, and in return enjoyed great popularity.

   Life at the vicarage was an ideal of domestic happiness. Mr. and Mrs. Crayne were devoted to each other and to their daughter, and she to them. Muriel Crayne had grown up among the villagers, devoting herself to parish work as soon as she was old enough to do so. She seemed to find her life sufficient for her needs, and many were the comparisons drawn by other parents in Gylston between the vicar's daughter and their own restless offspring.

   A year previously a new curate had arrived in the person of the Rev. Charles Blade. His frank, straightforward personality, coupled with his good looks and masculine bearing, had caused him to be greatly liked, not only by the vicar and his family, but by all the parishioners.

   Suddenly and without warning the peace of the vicarage was destroyed. One morning Mr. Crayne received by post an anonymous letter, in which the names of his daughter and the curate were linked together in a way that caused him both pain and anxiety.

   A man with a strong sense of humour himself, he cordially despised the anonymous letter-writer, and his first instinct had been to ignore that which he had just received. On second thoughts, however, he reasoned that the writer would be unlikely to rest content with a single letter; but would, in all probability, make the same calumnious statements to others.

   After consulting with his wife, he had reluctantly questioned his daughter. At first she was inclined to treat the matter lightly; but on the grave nature of the accusations being pointed out to her, she had become greatly embarrassed and assured him that the curate had never been more than ordinarily attentive to her.

   The vicar decided to allow the matter to rest there, and accordingly he made no mention of the letter to Blade.

   A week later his daughter brought him a letter she had found lying in the vicarage grounds. It contained a passionate declaration of love, and ended with a threat of what might happen if the writer's passion were not reciprocated.

   Although the letter was unsigned, the vicar could not disguise from himself the fact that there was a marked similarity between the handwriting of the two anonymous letters and that of his curate. He decided, therefore, to ask Blade if he could throw any light on the matter.

   At first the young man had appeared bewildered; then he had pledged his word of honour, not only that he had not written the letters, but that there was no truth in the statements they contained.

   With that the vicar had to rest content; but worse was to follow.

   Two evenings later, one of the churchwardens called at the vicarage and, after behaving in what to the vicar seemed a very strange manner, he produced from his pocket a letter he had received that morning, in which were repeated the scandalous statements contained in the first epistle.

   From then on the district was deluged with anonymous letters, all referring to the alleged passion of the curate for the vicar's daughter, and the intrigue they were carrying on together. Some of the letters were frankly indelicate in their expression and, as the whole parish seethed with the scandal, the vicar appealed to the police for aid.

   One peculiarity of the letters was that all were written upon the same paper, known as "Olympic Script." This was supplied locally to a number of people in the neighbourhood, among others, the vicar, the curate, and the schoolmaster.

   Soon the story began to find its way into the newspapers, and Blade's position became one full of difficulty and embarrassment. He had consulted Robert Freynes, who had been at Oxford with his father, and the K.C., convinced of the young man's innocence, had sought Malcolm Sage's aid.

   "You see, Sage," Freynes had remarked, "I'm sure the boy is straight and incapable of such conduct; but it's impossible to talk to that ass Murdy. He has no more imagination than a tin-linnet."

   Freynes's reference was to Chief Inspector Murdy, of Scotland Yard, who had been entrusted with the inquiry, the local police having proved unequal to the problem.

   Although Malcolm Sage had promised Robert Freynes that he would undertake the inquiry into the Gylston scandal, it was not until nearly a week later that he found himself at liberty to motor down into Hampshire.

   One afternoon the vicar of Gylston, on entering his church, found a stranger on his knees in the chancel. Note-book in hand, he was transcribing the inscription of a monumental brass.

   As the vicar approached, he observed that the stranger was vigorously shaking a fountain-pen, from which the ink had evidently been exhausted.

   At the sound of Mr. Crayne's footsteps the stranger looked up, turning towards him a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles, above which a bald conical head seemed to contradict the keenness of the eyes and the youthful lines of the face beneath.

   "You are interested in monumental brasses?" inquired the vicar, as he entered the chancel, and the stranger rose to his feet. "I am the vicar," he explained. There was a look of eager interest in the pale grey eyes that looked out from a placid, scholarly face.

   "I was taking the liberty of copying the inscription on this," replied Malcolm Sage, indicating the time-worn brass at his feet, "only unfortunately my fountain-pen has given out."

   "There is pen and ink in the vestry," said the vicar, impressed by the fact that the stranger had chosen the finest brass in the church, one that had been saved from Cromwell's Puritans by the ingenuity of the then incumbent, who had caused it to be covered with cement. Then as an afterthought the vicar added, "I can get your pen filled at the vicarage. My daughter has some ink; she always uses a fountain-pen."

   Malcolm Sage thanked him, and for the next half-hour the vicar forgot the worries of the past few weeks in listening to a man who seemed to have the whole subject of monumental brasses and Norman architecture at his finger-ends.

   Subsequently Malcolm Sage was invited to the vicarage, where another half-hour was occupied in Mr. Crayne showing him his collection of books on brasses.

   As Malcolm Sage made a movement to depart, the vicar suddenly remembered the matter of the ink, apologised for his remissness, and left the room, returning a few minutes later with a bottle of fountain-pen ink. Malcolm Sage drew from his pocket his pen, and proceeded to replenish the ink from the bottle. Finally he completed the transcription of the lettering of the brass from a rubbing produced by the vicar.

   Reluctant to allow so interesting a visitor to depart, Mr. Crayne pressed him to take tea; but Malcolm Sage pleaded an engagement.

   As they crossed the hall, a fair girl suddenly rushed out from a door on the right. She was crying hysterically. Her hair was disordered, her deep violet eyes rimmed with red, and her moist lips seemed to stand out strangely red against the alabaster paleness of her skin.


   Malcolm Sage glanced swiftly at the vicar. The look of scholarly calm had vanished from his features, giving place to a set sternness that reflected the tone in which he had uttered his daughter's name.

   At the sight of a stranger the girl had paused, then, as if realising her tear-stained face and disordered hair, she turned and disappeared through the door from which she had rushed.

   "My daughter," murmured the vicar, a little sadly, Malcolm Sage thought. "She has always been very highly strung and emotional," he added, as if considering some explanation necessary. "We have to be very stern with her on such occasions. It is the only way to repress it."

   "You find it answers?" remarked Malcolm Sage.

   "She has been much better lately, although she has been sorely tried. Perhaps you have heard."

   Malcolm Sage nodded absently, as he gazed intently at the thumb-nail of his right hand. A minute later he was walking down the drive, his thoughts occupied with the pretty daughter of the vicar of Gylston.

   At the curate's lodgings he was told that Mr. Blade was away, and would not return until late that night.

   As he turned from the gate, Malcolm Sage encountered a pale-faced, narrow-shouldered man with a dark moustache and a hard, peevish mouth.

   To Malcolm Sage's question as to which was the way to the inn, he nodded in the direction from which he had come and continued on his way.

   "A man who has failed in what he set out to accomplish," was Malcolm Sage's mental diagnosis of John Gray, the Gylston schoolmaster.

   It was not long before Malcolm Sage realised that the village of Gylston was intensely proud of itself. It had seen in the London papers accounts of the mysterious scandal of which it was the centre. A Scotland Yard officer had been down, and had subjected many of the inhabitants to a careful cross-examination. In consequence Gylston realised that it was a village to be reckoned with.

   The Tired Traveller was the centre of all rumour and gossip. Here each night in the public-bar, or in the private-parlour, according to their social status, the inhabitants would forgather and discuss the problem of the mysterious letters. Every sort of theory was advanced, and every sort of explanation offered. Whilst popular opinion tended to the view that the curate was the guilty party, there were some who darkly shook their heads and muttered, "We shall see."

   It was remembered and discussed with relish that John Gray, the schoolmaster, had for some time past shown a marked admiration for the vicar's daughter. She, however, had made it clear that the cadaverous, saturnine pedagogue possessed for her no attractions.

   During the half-hour that Malcolm Sage spent at the Tired Traveller, eating a hurried meal, he heard all there was to be heard about local opinion.

   The landlord, a rubicund old fellow whose baldness extended to his eyelids, was bursting with information. By nature capable of making a mystery out of a sunbeam, he revelled in the scandal that hummed around him.

   After a quarter of an hour's conversation, the landlord's conversation, Malcolm Sage found himself possessed of a bewildering amount of new material.

   "A young gal don't have them highsterics for nothin'," mine host remarked darkly. "Has fits of 'em every now and then ever since she was a flapper, sobbin' and cryin' fit to break 'er heart, and the vicar that cross with her."

   "That is considered the best way to treat hysterical people," remarked Malcolm Sage.

   "Maybe," was the reply, "but she's only a gal, and a pretty one too," he added inconsequently.

   "Then there's the schoolmaster," he continued, "'ates the curate like poison, he does. Shouldn't be surprised if it was him that done it. 'E's always been a bit sweet in that quarter himself, has Mr. Gray. Got talked about a good deal one time, 'angin' about arter Miss Muriel," added the loquacious publican.

   By the time Malcolm Sage had finished his meal, the landlord was well in his stride of scandalous reminiscence. It was with obvious reluctance that he allowed so admirable a listener to depart, and it was with manifest regret that he watched Malcolm Sage's car disappear round the curve in the road.

   A little way beyond the vicarage, an admonitory triangle caused Tims to slow up. Just by the bend Malcolm Sage observed a youth and a girl standing in the recess of a gate giving access to a meadow. Although they were in the shadow cast by the hedge, Malcolm Sage's quick eyes recognised in the girl the vicar's daughter. The youth looked as if he might be one of the lads of the village.

   In the short space of two or three seconds Malcolm Sage noticed the change in the girl. Although he could not see her face very clearly, the vivacity of her bearing and the ready laugh were suggestive of a gaiety contrasting strangely with the tragic figure he had seen in the afternoon.

   Muriel Crayne was obviously of a very mercurial temperament, he decided, as the car swung round the bend.

   The next morning, in response to a telephone message, Inspector Murdy called on Malcolm Sage.

   "Well, Mr. Sage," he cried, as he shook hands, "going to have another try to teach us our job?" And his blue eyes twinkled good-humouredly.

   The inspector had already made up his mind. He was a man with many successes to his record, achieved as a result of undoubted astuteness in connection with the grosser crimes, such as train-murders, post-office hold-ups and burglaries. He was incapable, however, of realising that there existed a subtler form of law-breaking, arising from something more intimately associated with the psychic than the material plane.

   "Did you see Mr. Blade?" inquired Malcolm Sage.

   "Saw the whole blessed lot," was the cheery reply. "It's all as clear as milk." And he laughed.

   "What did Mr. Blade say?" inquired Malcolm Sage, looking keenly across at the inspector.

   "Just that he had nothing to say."

   "His exact words. Can you remember them?" queried Malcolm Sage.

   "Oh, yes!" replied the inspector. "He said, 'Inspector Murdy, I have nothing to say,' and then he shut up like a real Whitstable."

   "He was away yesterday," remarked Malcolm Sage, who then told the inspector of his visit. "How about John Gray, the schoolmaster?" he queried.

   "He practically told me to go to the devil," was the genial reply. Inspector Murdy was accustomed to rudeness; his profession invited it, and to his rough-and-ready form of reasoning, rudeness meant innocence; politeness, guilt.

   He handed to Malcolm Sage a copy of a list of people who purchased "Olympic Script" from Mr. Grainger, the local Whiteley, volunteering the information that the curate was the biggest consumer, as if that settled the question of his guilt.

   "And yet the vicar would not hear of the arrest of Blade," murmured Malcolm Sage, turning the copper ash-tray round with his restless fingers.

   The inspector shrugged his massive shoulders.

   "Sheer good nature and kindliness, Mr. Sage," he said. "He's as gentle as a woman."

   "I once knew a man," remarked Malcolm Sage, "who said that in the annals of crime lay the master-key to the world's mysteries, past, present and to come."

   "A dreamer, Mr. Sage," smiled the inspector. "We haven't time for dreaming at the Yard," he added good-temperedly, as he rose and shook himself like a Newfoundland dog.

   "I suppose it never struck you to look elsewhere than at the curate's lodgings for the writer of the letters?" inquired Malcolm Sage quietly.

   "It never strikes me to look about for some one when I'm sitting on his chest," laughed Inspector Murdy.

   "True," said Malcolm Sage. "By the way," he continued, without looking up, "in future can you let me see every letter as it is received? You might also keep careful record of how they are delivered."

   "Certainly, Mr. Sage. Anything that will make you happy."

   "Later I may get you to ask the vicar to seal up any subsequent anonymous letters that reach him without allowing any one to see the contents. Do you think he would do that?"

   "Without doubt if I ask him," said the inspector, surprise in his eyes as he looked down upon the cone of baldness beneath him, realising what a handicap it is to talk to a man who keeps his eyes averted.

   "He must then put the letters in a place where no one can possibly obtain access to them. One thing more," continued Malcolm Sage, "will you ask Miss Crayne to write out the full story of the letters as far as she personally is acquainted with it?"

   "Very well, Mr. Sage," said the inspector, with the air of one humouring a child. "Now I'll be going." He walked towards the door, then suddenly stopped and turned.

   "I suppose you think I'm wrong about the curate?"

   "I'll tell you later," was the reply.

   "When you find the master-key?" laughed the inspector, as he opened the door.

   "Yes, when I find the master-key," said Malcolm Sage quietly and, as the door closed behind Inspector Murdy, he continued to finger the copper ash-tray as if that were the master-key.



Malcolm Sage was seated at a small green-covered table playing solitaire. A velvet smoking jacket and a pair of wine-coloured morocco slippers suggested that the day's work was done.

   Patience, chess, and the cinema were his unfailing sources of inspiration when engaged upon a more than usually difficult case. He had once told Sir James Walton that they clarified his brain and co-ordinated his thoughts, the cinema in particular. The fact that in the surrounding darkness were hundreds of other brains, vital and active, appeared to stimulate his own imagination.

   Puffing steadily at a gigantic meerschaum, he moved the cards with a deliberation which suggested that his attention rather than his thoughts was absorbed in the game.

   Nearly a month had elapsed since he had agreed to take up the inquiry into the authorship of the series of anonymous letters with which Gylston and the neighbourhood had been flooded; yet still the matter remained a mystery.

   A celebrated writer of detective stories had interested himself in the affair, with the result that the Press throughout the country had "stunted" Gylston as if it had been a heavy-weight championship, or a train murder.

   For a fortnight Malcolm Sage had been on the Continent in connection with the theft of the Adair Diamonds. Two days previously, after having restored the famous jewels to Lady Adair, he had returned to London, to find that the Gylston affair had developed a new and dramatic phase. The curate had been arrested for an attempted assault upon Miss Crayne and, pleading "not guilty," had been committed for trial.

   The incident that led up to this had taken place on the day that Malcolm Sage left London. Late that afternoon Miss Crayne had arrived at the vicarage in a state bordering on collapse. On becoming more collected, she stated that on returning from paying a call, and when half-way through a copse, known locally as "Gypsies Wood," Blade had sprung out upon her and violently protested his passion. He had gripped hold of her wrists, the mark of his fingers was to be seen on the delicate skin, and threatened to kill her and himself. She had been terrified, thinking he meant to kill her. The approach of a farm labourer had saved her, and the curate had disappeared through the copse.

   This story was borne out by Joseph Higgins, the farm labourer in question. He had arrived to find Miss Crayne in a state of great alarm and agitation, and he had walked with her as far as the vicarage gate. He did not, however, actually see the curate.

   On the strength of this statement the police had applied for a warrant, and had subsequently arrested the curate. Later he appeared before the magistrates, had been remanded, and finally committed for trial, bail being allowed.

   Blade protested his innocence alike of the assault and the writing of the letters; but two handwriting experts had testified to the similarity of the handwriting of the anonymous letters with that of the curate. Furthermore, they were all written upon "Olympic Script," the paper that Blade used for his sermons.

   Malcolm Sage had just started a new deal when the door opened and Rogers showed in Robert Freynes. With a nod, Malcolm Sage indicated the chair opposite. His visitor dropped into it and, taking a pipe from his pocket, proceeded to fill and light it.

   Placing his meerschaum on the mantelpiece, Malcolm Sage produced a well-worn briar from his pocket, which, having got into commission, he proceeded once more with the game.

   "It's looking pretty ugly for Blade," remarked Freynes, recognising by the substitution of the briar for the meerschaum that Malcolm Sage was ready for conversation.

   "Tell me."

   "It's those damned handwriting experts," growled Freynes. "They're the greatest anomaly of our legal system. The judge always warns the jury of the danger of accepting their evidence; yet each side continues to produce them. It's an insult to intelligence and justice."

   "To hang a man because his 's' resembles that of an implicating document," remarked Malcolm Sage, as he placed a red queen on a black knave, "is about as sensible as to imprison him because he has the same accent as a footpad."

   "Then there's Blade's astonishing apathy," continued Freynes. "He seems quite indifferent to the gravity of his position. Refuses to say a word. Any one might think he knew the real culprit and was trying to shield him," and he sucked moodily at his pipe.

   "The handwriting expert," continued Malcolm Sage imperturbably, "is too concerned with the crossing of a 't,' the dotting of an 'i,' or the tail of a 'g,' to give time and thought to the way in which the writer uses, for instance, the compound tenses of verbs. Blade was no more capable of writing those letters than our friend Murdy is of transliterating the Rosetta Stone."

   "Yes; but can we prove it?" asked Freynes gloomily, as with the blade of a penknife he loosened the tobacco in the bowl of his pipe. "Can we prove it?" he repeated and, snapping the knife to, he replaced it in his pocket.

   "Blade's sermons," Malcolm Sage continued, "and such letters of his as you have been able to collect, show that he adopted a very definite and precise system of punctuation. He frequently uses the colon and the semicolon, and always in the right place. In a parenthetical clause preceded by the conjunction 'and,' he uses a comma after the 'and,' not before it as most people do. Before such words as 'yet' and 'but,' he without exception uses a semicolon. The word 'only,' he always puts in its correct place. In short, he is so academic as to savour somewhat of the pomposity of the eighteenth century."

   "Go on," said Freynes, as Malcolm Sage paused, as if to give the other a chance of questioning his reasoning.

   "Turning to the anonymous letters," continued Malcolm Sage, "it must be admitted that the handwriting is very similar; but there all likeness to Blade's sermons and correspondence ends. Murdy has shown me nearly all the anonymous letters, and in the whole series there is not one instance of the colon or the semicolon being used. The punctuation is of the vaguest, consisting largely of the dash, which after all is a literary evasion.

   "In these letters the word 'but' frequently appears without any punctuation mark before it. At other times it has a comma, a dash, or a full stop."

   He paused and for the next two minutes devoted himself to the game before him. Then he continued:

   "Such phrases as 'If only you knew,' 'I should have loved to have been,' 'different than,' which appear in these letters, would have been absolutely impossible to a man of Blade's meticulous literary temperament."

   As Malcolm Sage spoke, Robert Freynes's brain had been working rapidly. Presently he brought his hand down with a smack upon his knee.

   "By heavens, Sage!" he cried, "this is a new pill for the handwriting expert. I'll put you in the box. We've got a fighting chance after all."

   "The most curious factor in the whole case," continued Malcolm Sage, "is the way in which the letters were delivered. One was thrown into a fly on to Miss Crayne's lap, she tells us, when she and her father were driving home after dining at the Hall. Another was discovered in the vicarage garden. A third was thrown through Miss Crayne's bedroom window. A few of the earlier group were posted in the neighbouring town of Whitchurch, some on days that Blade was certainly not there."

   "That was going to be one of my strongest points," remarked Freynes.

   "The letters always imply that there is some obstacle existing between the writer and the girl he desires. What possible object could Blade have in writing letters to various people suggesting an intrigue between his vicar's daughter and himself; yet these letters were clearly written by the same hand that addressed those to the girl, her father and her mother."

   Freynes nodded his head comprehendingly.

   "If Blade were in love with the girl," continued Malcolm Sage, "what was there to prevent him from pressing his suit along legitimate and accepted lines? Murdy frankly acknowledges that there has been nothing in Blade's outward demeanour to suggest that Miss Crayne was to him anything more than the daughter of his vicar."

   "What do you make of the story of the assault?"

   "As evidence it is worthless," replied Malcolm Sage, "being without corroboration. The farm-hand did not actually see Blade."

   Freynes nodded his agreement.

   "Having convinced myself that Blade had nothing to do with the writing of the letters, I next tried to discover if there were anything throwing suspicion on others in the neighbourhood, who were known to use 'Olympic Script' as notepaper.

   "The schoolmaster, John Gray, was one. He is an admirer of Miss Crayne, according to local gossip; but it was obvious from the first that he had nothing to do with the affair. One by one I eliminated all the others, until I came back once more to Blade.

   "It was clear that the letters were written with a fountain-pen, and Blade always uses one. That, however, is not evidence, as millions of people use fountain-pens. By the way, what is your line of defence?" he inquired.

   "Smashing the handwriting experts," was the reply. "I was calling four myself, on the principle that God is on the side of the big battalions; but now I shall depend entirely on your evidence."

   "The assault?" queried Malcolm Sage.

   "There I'm done," said Freynes, "for although Miss Crayne's evidence is not proof, it will be sufficient for a jury. Besides, she's a very pretty and charming girl. I suppose," he added, "Blade must have made some sort of declaration, which she, in the light of the anonymous letters, entirely misunderstood."

   "What does he say?"

   "Denies it absolutely, although he admits being in the neighbourhood of the 'Gypsies Wood,' and actually catching sight of Miss Crayne in the distance; but he says he did not speak to her."

   "Is he going into the witness-box?"

   "Certainly," then after a pause he added, "Kelton is prosecuting, and he's as moral as a swan. He'll appeal to the jury as fathers of daughters, and brothers of sisters."

   Malcolm Sage made no comment; but continued smoking mechanically, his attention apparently absorbed in the cards before him.

   "If you can smash the handwriting experts," continued the K.C., "I may be able to manage the girl's testimony."

   "It will not be necessary," said Malcolm Sage, carefully placing a nine of clubs upon an eight of diamonds.

   "Not necessary?"

   "I have asked Murdy to come round," continued Malcolm Sage, still intent upon his game. "I think that was his ring."

   A minute later the door opened to admit the burly inspector, more blue-eyed and genial than ever, and obviously in the best of spirits.

   "Good-evening, Mr. Sage," he cried cheerfully. "Congratulations on the Adair business. Good-evening, sir," he added, as he shook hands with Freynes.

   He dropped heavily into a seat, and taking a cigar from the box on the table, which Malcolm Sage had indicated with a nod, he proceeded to light it. No man enjoyed a good cigar more than Inspector Murdy.

   "Well, what do you think of it?" he inquired, looking from Malcolm Sage to Freynes. "It's a clear case now, I think." He slightly stressed the word "now."

   "You mean it's Blade?" inquired Malcolm Sage, as he proceeded to gather up the cards.

   "Who else?" inquired the inspector, through a cloud of smoke.

   "That is the question which involves your being here now, Murdy," said Malcolm Sage dryly.

   "We've got three handwriting experts behind us," said the inspector complacently.

   "That is precisely where they should be," retorted Malcolm Sage quietly. "In the biblical sense," he added.

   Freynes laughed, whilst Inspector Murdy looked from one to the other. He did not quite catch the allusion.

   "You have done as I suggested?" inquired Malcolm Sage, when he had placed the cards in their box and removed the card-table.

   "Here are all the letters received up to a fortnight ago," said the inspector, holding out a bulky packet. "Those received since have each been sealed up separately by the vicar, who is keeping half of them, whilst I have the other half; but really, Mr. Sage, I don't understand ——"

   "Thank you, Murdy," said Malcolm Sage, as he took the packet. "It is always a pleasure to work with Scotland Yard. It is so thorough."

   The inspector beamed; for he knew the compliment was sincere.

   Without a word Malcolm Sage left the room, taking the packet with him.

   "A bit quaint at times, ain't he, sir?" remarked Inspector Murdy to Freynes; "but one of the best. I'd trust him with anything."

   Freynes nodded encouragingly.

   "There are some of them down at the Yard that don't like him," he continued. "They call him 'Sage and Onions,' but most of us who have worked with him swear by Mr. Sage. He's never out for the limelight himself, and he's always willing to give another fellow a leg up. After all, it's our living," he added, a little inconsequently.

   Freynes appreciated the inspector's delicacy in refraining from any mention of the Gylston case during Malcolm Sage's absence. After all, they represented respectively the prosecution and the defence. For nearly half an hour the two talked together upon unprofessional subjects. When Malcolm Sage returned, he found them discussing the prospects of Dempsey against Carpentier.

   Handing back the packet of letters to Inspector Murdy, Malcolm Sage resumed his seat, and proceeded to relight his pipe.

   "Spotted the culprit, Mr. Sage?" inquired the inspector, with something that was very much like a wink in the direction of Freynes.

   "I think so," was the quiet reply. "You might meet me at Gylston Vicarage to-morrow at three. I'll telegraph to Blade to be there too. You had better bring the schoolmaster also."

   "You mean ——" began the inspector, rising.

   "Exactly," said Malcolm Sage. "It's past eleven, and we all require sleep."



The next afternoon the study of the vicar of Gylston presented a strange appearance.

   Seated at Mr. Crayne's writing-table was Malcolm Sage, a small attaché-case at his side, whilst before him were several piles of sealed packets. Grouped about the room were Inspector Murdy, Robert Freynes, Mr. Gray, and the vicar.

   All had their eyes fixed upon Malcolm Sage; but with varying expressions. Those of the schoolmaster were frankly cynical. The inspector and Freynes looked as if they expected to see produced from the attaché-case a guinea-pig or a white rabbit, pink-eyed and kicking; whilst the vicar had obviously not yet recovered from his surprise at discovering that the stranger, who had shown such a remarkable knowledge of monumental brasses and Norman architecture, was none other than the famous investigator about whom he had read so much in the newspapers.

   With quiet deliberation Malcolm Sage opened the attaché-case and produced a spirit lamp, which he lighted. He then placed a metal plate upon a rest above the flame. On this he imposed a thicker plate of a similar metal that looked like steel; but it had a handle across the middle, rather resembling that of a tool used by plasterers.

   He then glanced up, apparently unconscious of the almost feverish interest with which his every movement was being watched.

   "I should like Miss Crayne to be present," he said.

   As he spoke the door opened and the curate entered, his dark, handsome face lined and careworn. It was obvious that he had suffered. He bowed, and then looked about him, without any suggestion of embarrassment.

   Malcolm Sage rose and held out his hand, Freynes followed suit.

   "Ask Miss Muriel to come here," said the vicar to the maid as she was closing the door.

   The curate took the seat that Malcolm Sage indicated beside him. Silently the six men waited.

   A few minutes later Miss Crayne entered, pale but self-possessed. She closed the door behind her. Suddenly she caught sight of the curate. Her eyes widened, and her paleness seemed to become accentuated. A moment later it was followed by a crimson flush. She hesitated, her hands clenched at her side, then with a manifest effort she appeared to control herself and, with a slight smile and inclination of her head, took the chair the schoolmaster moved towards her. Instinctively she turned her eyes toward Malcolm Sage.

   "Inspector Murdy," he said, without raising his eyes, "will you please open two of those packets." He indicated the pile upon his left. "I should explain," he continued, "that each of these contains one of the most recent of the series of letters with which we are concerned. Each was sealed up by Mr. Crayne immediately it reached him, in accordance with Inspector Murdy's request. Therefore, only the writer, the recipient and the vicar have had access to these letters."

   Malcolm Sage turned his eyes interrogatingly upon Mr. Crayne, who bowed.

   Meanwhile the inspector had cut open the two top envelopes, unfolded the sheets of paper they contained, and handed them to Malcolm Sage.

   All eyes were fixed upon his long, shapely fingers as he smoothed out one of the sheets of paper upon the vicar's blotting-pad. Then, lifting the steel plate by the handle, he placed it upon the upturned sheet of paper.

   The tension was almost unendurable. The heavy breathing of Inspector Murdy seemed like the blowing of a grampus.

   Mr. Gray glanced across at him irritably. The vicar coughed slightly, then looked startled that he had made so much noise.

   Every one bent forward, eagerly expecting something; yet without quite knowing what. Malcolm Sage lifted the metal plate from the letter. There in the centre of the page, in bluish-coloured letters, which had not been there when the paper was smoothed out upon the blotting-pad, appeared the words:

Malcolm Sage,
August 12th, 1919.
No. 138.

   For some moments they all gazed at the paper as if the mysterious blue letters exercised upon them some hypnotic influence.

   "Secret ink!"

   It was Robert Freynes who spoke. Accustomed as he was to dramatic moments, he was conscious of a strange dryness at the back of his throat, and a consequent huskiness of voice.

   His remark seemed to break the spell. Instinctively every one turned to him. The significance of the bluish-coloured characters was slowly dawning upon the inspector; but the others still seemed puzzled to account for their presence.

   Immediately he had lifted the plate from the letter, Malcolm Sage had drawn a sheet of plain sermon paper from the rack before him. This he subjected to the same treatment as the letter. When a few seconds later he exposed it, there in the centre appeared the same words:

Malcolm Sage,
August 12th, 1919.

but on this sheet the number was 203.

   Then the true significance of the two sheets of paper seemed to dawn upon the onlookers.

   Suddenly there was a scream, and Muriel Crayne fell forward on to the floor.

   "Oh! father, father, forgive me!" she cried, and the next moment she was beating the floor with her hands in violent hysterics.



"From the first I suspected the truth," remarked Malcolm Sage, as he, Robert Freynes and Inspector Murdy sat smoking in the car that Tims was taking back to London at its best pace. "Eighty-five years ago a somewhat similar case occurred in France, that of Marie de Morel, when an innocent man was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment, and actually served eight before the truth was discovered."

   The inspector whistled under his breath.

   "This suspicion was strengthened by the lengthy account of the affair written by Miss Crayne, which Murdy obtained from her. The punctuation, the phrasing, the inaccurate use of auxiliary verbs, were identical with that of the anonymous letters.

   "Another point was that the similarity of the handwriting of the anonymous letters to Blade's became more pronounced as the letters themselves multiplied. The writer was becoming more expert as an imitator."

   Freynes nodded his head several times.

   "The difficulty, however, was to prove it," continued Malcolm Sage. "There was only one way; to substitute secretly marked paper for that in use at the vicarage.

   "I accordingly went down to Gylston, and the vicar found me keenly interested in monumental brasses, his pet subject, and Norman architecture. He invited me to the vicarage. In his absence from his study I substituted a supply of marked Olympic Script in place of that in his letter-rack, and also in the drawer of his writing-table. As a further precaution, I arranged for my fountain-pen to run out of ink. He kindly supplied me with a bottle, obviously belonging to his daughter. I replenished my pen, which was full of a chemical that would enable me, if necessary, to identify any letter in the writing of which it had been used. When I placed my pen, which is a self-filler, in the ink, I forced this liquid into the bottle."

   The inspector merely stared. Words had forsaken him for the moment.

   "It was then necessary to wait until the ink in Miss Crayne's pen had become exhausted, and she had to replenish her supply of paper from her father's study. After that discovery was inevitable."

   "But suppose she had denied it?" questioned the inspector.

   "There was the ink which she alone used, and which I could identify," was the reply.

   "Why did you ask Gray to be present?" inquired Freynes.

   "As his name had been associated with the scandal it seemed only fair," remarked Malcolm Sage, then turning to Inspector Murdy he said, "I shall leave it to you, Murdy, to see that a proper confession is obtained. The case has had such publicity that Mr. Blade's innocence must be made equally public."

   "You may trust me, Mr. Sage," said the inspector. "But why did the curate refuse to say anything?"

   "Because he is a high-minded and chivalrous gentleman," was the quiet reply.

   "He knew?" cried Freynes.

   "Obviously," said Malcolm Sage. "It is the only explanation of his silence. I taxed him with it after the girl had been taken away, and he acknowledged that his suspicions amounted almost to certainty."

   "Yet he stayed behind," murmured the inspector with the air of a man who does not understand. "I wonder why?"

   "To minister to the afflicted, Murdy," said Malcolm Sage. "That is the mission of the Church."

   "I suppose you meant that French case when you referred to the 'master-key,'" remarked the inspector, as if to change the subject.

   Malcolm Sage nodded.

   "But how do you account for Miss Crayne writing such letters about herself?" inquired the inspector, with a puzzled expression in his eyes. "Pretty funny letters some of them for a parson's daughter."

   "I'm not a pathologist, Murdy," remarked Malcolm Sage dryly, "but when you try to suppress hysteria in a young girl by sternness, it's about as effectual as putting ointment on a plaguespot."

   "Sex-repression?" queried Freynes.

   Malcolm Sage shrugged his shoulders; then after a pause, during which he lighted the pipe he had just refilled, he added:

   "When you are next in Great Russell Street, drop in at the British Museum and look at the bust of Faustina. You will see that her chin is similar in modelling to that of Miss Crayne. The girl was apparently very much attracted to Blade, and proceeded to weave what was no doubt to her a romance, later it became an obsession. It all goes to show the necessity for pathological consideration of certain crimes."

   "But who was Faustina?" inquired the inspector, unable to follow the drift of the conversation.

   "Faustina," remarked Malcolm Sage, "was the domestic fly in the philosophical ointment of an emperor," and Inspector Murdy laughed; for, knowing nothing of the marriage or the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, it seemed to him the only thing to do.


(Prepared with assistance from Carolyn Dougherty)